Cameron’s Euro-Pirouette

David Cameron’s big Euro Speech was delayed from its original time and place in Amsterdam due to the Algerian hostage crisis, and then finally delivered yesterday in London.

The basics are that Cameron thundered a bit about EU centralism and Britain’s desire that the Union return to the pristine vision of a free-trade compact; promised to hold an in-or-out referendum on Europe by 2017 if his government is returned to office in the impending 2015 elections; and then waxed poetic about the potential benefits of a properly structured EU, which he hopes to endorse if things go well in the next five years.

But the reaction was all over the place. Cameron’s fellow Tories were quite happy, mainly because his referendum gambit bought them time to deal with anti-Europe sentiments that were bleeding voters to the UK Independence Party. But Cameron’s Coalition partner and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg attacked the speech initially as irresponsible before calming down today. Labour’s Ed Milliband was also critical, but his party hasn’t quite figured out where it stands on the subject of a referendum.

The business community in the UK and across Europe was also split over Cameron’s direction.

In this country, Brookings’ Thomas Wright acutely observed that Cameron’s leverage over Europe was in maintaining the strong possibility of a Euro-exit after the referendum, while his domestic posture is to position himself as someone who forces concessions from Brussels and then leads the triumphal pro-Europe referendum campaign. That’s quite a dance to maintain for nearly five years.

At The Monkey Cage, Princeton’s Andrew Moravcsik argues that Cameron is simply and shrewdly bluffing: putting himself at the head both of today’s EU critics and tomorrow’s inevitable pro-EU British majority:

[F]ar from being the radical threat to Europe that the Brussels beltway pundits fear, Cameron essentially proposes to postpone the issue until 2017, and then to claim credit for trends that have long been established, defending the status quo with a broad centrist coalition behind him. Smart politics.

Hard to say. But I’m mainly shocked to read the term “Brussels beltway pundits.” I don’t recall Brussels having a “beltway” when I was there many years ago. But perhaps it’s just a sign that our own political terminology has truly gone global.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.